Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Staff complaints about a top University of New Mexico administrator’s pattern of problematic behavior prompted internal investigators last year to recommend a “formal coach” to improve his communication and management skills.
But the university is not saying whether it ever heeded that guidance or what it has done in the interim to monitor the situation for improvement.
UNM human resources investigators wrote in October 2017 that Chris Vallejos, an associate vice president for a division with more than 700 employees, has financial acumen but that his performance in other areas “is not at the level expected for an associate vice president.”
Vallejos heads UNM’s Institutional Support Services, which encompasses units like parking and transportation, student housing, food services and the UNM Bookstores.
Issues had recurred despite previous attempts to resolve them informally, the report said, so the HR investigators recommended Vallejos get formal written notification outlining expectations and a coach to help him with “developing the necessary skills.”
But documents detailing the investigation and resulting action do not indicate UNM ever utilized a coach. The only record of discipline provided is an Oct. 31, 2017, memo from Vallejos’ supervisor, executive vice president for administration David Harris, listing five changes for Vallejos to make, including that he “self-monitor” his behavior and “encourage open and honest dialogue with staff.” UNM said the memo is a letter of improvement, the lowest level in the formal disciplinary process.
Vallejos said he has incorporated the feedback “into my daily routine and collegial interactions,” adding in a written statement to the Journal, “I have always welcomed opportunities for ways in which I can better serve the University and the campus community.”
A UNM spokeswoman declined to say this week whether UNM ever used a coach or how – or if – the university had monitored Vallejos’ behavior, saying the university does not discuss the specific details of personnel matters. She also would not say whether UNM has received any additional complaints about Vallejos’ behavior, although records show a January complaint from outside the university alleged Vallejos used university email for obscene messages. Spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair said UNM investigated the email allegations and found them unsubstantiated.
Human resources began its 2017 investigation after an anonymous complaint to UNM’s whistleblower hotline. The tipster claimed Vallejos had been dating a UNM Bookstore employee, and when she did not receive a lateral job transfer she wanted, Vallejos retaliated against staff who direct and oversee the bookstore.
The Journal obtained the reports via a public records request. The request, filed Sept. 4, sought records detailing UNM’s investigation and any resulting disciplinary action related to the retaliation complaint and the separate hotline tip alleging Vallejos had inappropriately used his university email.
UNM delayed its response date eight times, first citing the breadth of the request and later the “sensitive nature of such hotline complaints.” It provided records on the retaliation complaint on Nov. 16, but has not released any on the tip about obscene emails.
The investigators’ report on the retaliation complaint said Vallejos appeared to have had a personal relationship with the bookstore employee (who no longer works there), though it was not clear if he committed an outright violation of UNM’s policy on consensual relationships and conflicts of interest since he was not her immediate supervisor. But the pair’s relationship appeared to have “negatively impacted the morale in the workplace” and created the perception of conflict of interest.
Witnesses who spoke to investigators also made other complaints, saying Vallejos did not listen, spoke unprofessionally to staff, gave one employee the silent treatment, embellished, withheld information and would “be approachable one day and treat people poorly the next.”
Records reviewed by the Journal show all three witnesses were staff inside the ISS division.
High-level ISS staff said they worked more effectively through Harris than Vallejos, which prompted the investigators also to recommend a review of the ISS structure “to determine if the current management levels are appropriate given that the management staff have been able to largely work around Mr. Vallejos.”